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34 responses to “John Quiggin on international social democracy: A response”

  1. Wozza

    “realistic utopianism”, huh?

    Same sort of concept Quiggin as making objective sense, I suppose.

  2. Kim

    What is it, make snide remarks against anything that actually requires someone to think month?

    The phrase originates with John Rawls:


    Learn to Google if you can’t understand.

  3. Fran Barlow

    Thus, politicians such as Malcolm Turnbull (to pluck a name out of the air) have no difficulty sprouting a progressive line on immigration …

    I see no basic problem in principle with reciprocal social benefit arrangements. It ought to be easy in the case of states with similar cultures of entitlement and that have substantial trade with each other to do this. Selling this politically tends to be a little harder, because parochialism is the easiest message for fringe parties of the right to trade on.

    The thornier end of this occurs when the two states have sharply different approaches to per capita spending on entitlement. Again, while there’s no specific reason why one should not pay people willing to work where there is demand for low skilled labour the kinds of benefits one would give to citizens performing such labour, politically, this is where the really hard-nosed xenophobes get going. Reason simply doesn’t get a guernsey.

  4. Katz

    In the late C19 Joseph Chamberlain, one of the progenitors of the British welfare state, asked rhetorically what ransom the rich were prepared to pay to the poor as a guarantee of their privilege and security. In the end, by the 1970s, the answer, it seems, was “quite a lot.”

    Since then, the sum has been whittled down quite a lot.

    By 2008, Gordon Brown asked the poor of Britain what ransom they were willing to pay the banks as a guarantee of their modest privilege of living in a state whose tax base contains many financial institutions.

    With or without consent, Brown paid these institutions “quite a lot” in an attempt to buy financial stability.

    Thus, since the days of Joseph Chamberlain, the direction of payment of the ransom has reversed from the poor to the rich.

    The achievement of a payment of a ransom was achieved with threats of violence or at least severe social and economic disruption.

    Unless the international social democratic movement of whom Quiggin writes can mount a similar threat, I don’t like its chances of success.

  5. patrickg

    I am shamelessly copying this from what I wrote on Facebook in repsonse to Quiggin’s initial post, but it’s still apropos:

    It *is* a good post, yet I can’t help wonder if prof Q succumbs to the same pessimism and kind of seige mentality he derides in his framing of the question. I mean, obviously we’re not in Paris, 1968, and yet – looking to Australia, for exa…mple – the last federal election showed a huge surge in greens votes and a significant disengagement with politics as it’s been typically practiced.

    In this sense, I’m not sure that the broad social democratic project is at any more threat *from the public* than it ever has been. I mean, it may be, but I don’t think there’s been a lot of evidence produced either way.

    On the other hand, I do think a less left/right disengagement is far more disturbing for western democracies, and indeed, I’m more concerned about what you might call political literacy, and the corruption – both overt and more subtle (e.g lobbyist culture) – of our democracies that seems to be proceeding largely unquestioned by both the public, and the fourth estate.

    This all said, I agree with all his points beyond those framing issues, and the kind of vision he talks about is an exciting and inspiring one for me personally.

  6. John Quiggin

    I was partly inspired by Wright, and plan to write a review of this sometime, along with Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land.

  7. Sam

    What is it, make snide remarks against anything that actually requires someone to think month?

    Well, this is the internet, where any idiot can make anonymous snide remarks, and plenty do.

  8. paul walter

    From what we see on telly, billions of people ask for nothing more than basic food, shelter and health. But they’d rather spend a trillion to fight that developing world aspiration when the same trillion could have been used for worthwhile purposes.

  9. Sabbra Cadabra

    I think its rather well understood that the European Union elicits a collective yawn from most Europeans.

    As someone who is marginally left of centre, I really don’t want to see my hard earned dollars frittered away (1) on foreign adventures when we haven’t even been able to overcome the indolence, family dysfunction and substance abuse that consigns so many indigenous Australians to despair and poverty.

    (1) Even economists in developing countries have begun questioning the value of foreign aid programs. Some suggest they do more harm than good, creating perverse incentives, moral hazard and entrenching ruling elites that are atrociously corrupt, incompetent and downright vile.

  10. Sabbra Cadabra

    “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa” by the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo is a must read for those who believe foreign aid is a worthwhile investment: http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Aid-Working-Better-Africa/dp/0374139563

  11. mick

    As sg has been saying over at CT, one of the things which is interesting in this discussion is that “multikulti” in Germany is not the same as multiculturalism as practiced in Australia, UK, Canada, or the US.

    Germany, along with many of the other major EU powers has never really embraced immigration as a transformative, largely positive practice. Unlike Australia, Germany is not in the practice of introducing skilled migrants beyond a few key sectors (like research and higher ed). Also, the opening of German borders to other EU nationalities has not seen a large movement of people in the same way as experienced in the UK.

    Much of the current immigration debate in Germany is tying into the debate about Germany’s role in the EU and more typical conservative dog whistles about the “englishification” of the German language and, well basically, your typical culture war guff.

    Oh, and I spent a large amount of time on the weekend having to justify my lack of German language skills while people were questioning whether or not I was one of the bad migrants who won’t “integrate”. Danke Frau Dr Merkel.

  12. Liam

    A side question, Mick and others: does anyone have an English translation of the Chancellor’s speech on multiculturalism in full? I haven’t been able to find anybody’s.

  13. Katz

    I would have thought that non-German speaking Europeans weren’t in the front of Merkel’s mind when she declared multiculturalism dead. She was referring, or at perhaps alluding, or at least dog-whistling about Muslims in general and Turks in particular, who are perceived in Germany to be a very different kettle of fish from your mono-lingual Anglophones.

    Indeed, populist Islamophobia and Turkophobia are on the rise in Germany at the moment. Merkel could well be attempting to do a Howard by attempting to bring Germany’s Hansonites into the CDU tent by means of a kinder, gentler xenophobia.

    On a more general point, Germany’s Turks are a particularly poor analogue for any Australian multiculturalism. They were allowed into Germany on a strictly temporary basis as “guest workers”. They were supposed to work, grow prosperous by Turkish standards, and leave. They were never welcomed as fellow citizens-to-be. They were perceived purely as a reserve army of the poor.

    This was never multiculturalism, it was good old fashioned capitalist exploitation, leavened with a pinch of economic discipline for Germany’s overmighty unionised workforce.

    So how can multiculturalism be said to have “failed” in Germany when it was never tried?

  14. Labor Outsider

    Interesting piece, but I find it very difficult to see global social democratic institutions being built upon its foundations within our lifetimes.

    No doubt that social democrats have to think deeply about developing a proactive agenda but the EU is already creaking under the strains of its own internal contradictions and democratic deficit. Many governments refused to allow voters the chance to give their verdicts on the recent Lisbon Treaty because they feared resounding no votes.

    And while we read a great deal about the UK’s fiscal austerity, the EU (together with the markets) has forced aggressive fiscal consolidation onto Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Greece. The state is in retreat in many European countries not because of globalisation as such (though it makes the consequences of structural problems more immediate) but because they can’t pay for the systems that were erected during better economic and demographic times.

    On immigration, most EU countries’ track record on integrating immigrants is far worse than Australia’s (most EU countries have far right parties that make Hanson look positively liberal). Look at what Sarkozy is doing to the Roma in France. And the marginalisation of guestworkers in countries like Germany. Or the way that many immigrants in the EU are trapped within dual labour markets that offer lucrative protected contracts to natives and force many immigrants onto temporary contracts with poor conditions and legal protection. Think of it as social democracy for insiders.

  15. mick

    Katz – nope, they are bashing on the skilled migrants as well. In some sense following the rhetoric of David Cameron. It’s actually causing a fuss in the CDU between the pro-business conservatives and the more hard right types.

    I do agree that they are trying to co-opt the rhetoric of the far right – as was seen in the UK last year.

  16. mick

    Somewhat agreeing with LO and trying to get back OT, I’m fairly fascinated (partially because I’m living it but also because it’s an interesting case study) in the disconnect between German impressions on migration and social welfare and the reality.

    Trying hard not to generalize here, but in Germany the impression the public has is that the country is very sympathetic to migrants. The reality is that there are very real foundational issues in government structures and business that entrench social inequality between Germans and outsiders.

    To take an example, all German universities (indeed all state employees) have a nicely negotiated pay structure which takes into account all sorts of nice social extras like number of dependents, years on the job and additional qualifications. However, they routinely refuse to acknowledge experience gained outside of Germany. That is, you could have worked as a scientist or whatever for 10 years at Caltech, Harvard, MIT or wherever and they will put you on the same rung of the pay ladder as a 1st year German PhD student (with a pay difference potentially on the order of €10k/year).

    Of course there is an appeal mechanism over such blatant discrimination. But in order to activate it you essentially have to be prepared to resign – and very few migrants have that luxury.

    The point is, in an integrated EU, this sort of thing should have been sorted out but it isn’t. Not so much because of some rampant tribalism but rather because there is no political will (or incentive) to change such things. (with this example most Professors/uni staffers are utterly shocked and embarrassed when they learn of such situations)

  17. akn

    I’m not sure that we can look to social demcoracy at all for this development (global/transferable citizenship rights)primarily because the parties of social demcoracy are failing. They fail because of changes to the nature, structure and strength of the working class. The SD tradition, minus genuine class conscious critical intellectuals, is only now catching on to the fact that you buy into the neolib agenda (especially the exporting of manufacturing jobs to undemocratic nations hostile to unions) at expense to the very social classes that provide the deep structures that the SD party was designed to represent.

    Rejuvenation of union active membership would be the first step in developing a movementcapable of pursuing the agenda that Quiggin proposes.

  18. paul walter

    But that’s been the whole point of globalisation, Akn.
    Once civil society took off in the west, big business moved offshore to avoid contributing to social costs revenues.
    The working class, who’s fire the vanguard could have combined strategic thought with, are now having to rebuild all over again in the Philipines, Djakarta, China (realistically, etc.
    Australia is really just a pleasant suburb in a giant retirement village.

  19. Katz

    PW is correct.

    There is no political engine sufficiently powerful to internationalise the kind of civil society that we in Australia momentarily enjoy.

    Moreover, there is insufficient will to bring about that achievement even if such a political engine did exist.

    Mind you, the reputation of globalised finance capitalism has never been lower now than since 1931. And yet even that appalling reputation was insufficient to dissuade the US, the UK, Ireland and several other countries from spending an unimaginable sum of money to prevent the utter collapse of the leading institutions of globalised finance capitalism.

    It was argued that these institutions were “too big to fail”.

    The necessary corollary of that slogan is that “British civil society is to small to matter”.

    And Cameron is correct.

  20. akn

    PW and Katz. Yep. Nevertheless, union is a matter of principle. Also, history surprises. The populations of the Philippines, Burma, Thailand and China mobilise from time to time. South korea is one to watch. I can never forgive hawke for wanting to open a TAB type business in Burma (then run by SLORC) as his first post retirment business plan. So much for human rights.

    The other side of Quiggin’s argument is what do we do to avert the Euro working classes falling into the trap of anti-immigrant fascism. Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands are a real worry.

  21. Katz

    I agree with your observations, AKN, about the possibility of resistance by Korean workers, etc. to their conditions of work and of life. Nothing lasts forever, even exploitation.

    But the process you describe is good old fashioned NATIONAL social democracy, not high-fallutin’ INTERNATIONAL social democracy.

  22. Dr_Tad

    I have a problem with JQ’s approach in that he seems to be throwing in the towel on domestic politics (which I know is not his usual stance).

    Coming from a Marxist viewpoint, I’d be the last person to criticise internationalism per se, but this seems an attempt to displace a problem generated from within the structures of national capitalist societies onto a different terrain. The use of race or other politics of fear to deflect and divide opposition to domestic pro-elite rule is something that has gone hand in hand with the globalisation of capital in the neoliberal era, and remains a domestic weakness for the Left to tackle (but mostly, in the case of social democratic parties it seems, surrender to). JQ seems uncomfortable with seeing it as a product of relations of nationally-organised class domination, however, and maybe that’s why he seeks an external dynamic to mobilise around.

    In some ways this argument parallels the way that Rudd essentially dropped the ball on any national social democratic project while pursuing an international climate change agenda. The “moral challenge” was also displaced from any domestic grounding. Yet the fact is that international processes are not just carried out in a world of pure market globalism. They are also the product of a real system of states, each with competing claims, and the absence of global governance except where those states agree (or are bullied by stronger states into agreeing) on certain rules of conduct. So when key nations decide it is not in their interests to pursue even mild climate action, as happened in Copenhagen, there is nobody to force them to.

    Therefore I think Mark is right to raise agency here. Currently we are just emerging from three decades of the Left acquiescing to the elite agenda, which was played out ideologically in the acceptance of key tenets of neoliberalism. But this process, while it had an international dimension, also had very distinct national characteristics.

    Compare Australia or the UK to France where the resilience of the Left has been greater and we see a society where many of the reforms successful here are still not able to be rammed through and where economic inequality has actually decreased in the last 10-15 years (according to OECD figures). That strength on the Left has meant a much more radical response around the current spate of austerity measures has been possible thanks to a much better organised and more confident working class (90% covered by collective agreements, compared with just over 50% here).

    It is that kind of agency-from-below, within a domestic context, that should be the focus of our efforts. Not to fall into nationalism (quite the contrary) but to recognise that we are dealing with the actions of a national elite and the national state that organises that elite’s rule. Rather than go off on flights of cosmopolitan social democratic fancy, better that we get clear on the enemies we face in our own backyard.

    It is in that sense that I want to nitpick on Mark’s language in talking of an “austerity attack on the state” in the UK. It’s actually an austerity attack by the state dressed up as the former. The difference is fundamental, and we lose our bearings if we miss it.

  23. akn

    Sabbra Cadabra @11:

    As someone who is marginally left of centre, I really don’t want to see my hard earned dollars frittered away (1) on foreign adventures when we haven’t even been able to overcome the indolence, family dysfunction and substance abuse that consigns so many indigenous Australians to despair and poverty.

    While it is a clear attempt at thread derail this comment (bold) cannot be alowed to go unchallenged. By what stretch of the imagination the author of this poisonous paragraph considers him or her self to be of the left is beyond comprehension especially in a nation where respect for First Nations people is a watershed issue between left and right. The negative characerisation of First Nations people – let me repeat – as indolent, substance abusing and dysfunctional – is only a partial picture at best. Let me suggest that the expenditure of $4.00 for each of the current editions of the NIT and Koori Mail and then several hours to read each is a marginal commitment of time and energy to overcome the ignorance and bigotry underpinning the author’s comments.

  24. Bill

    Unfortunately it is undoubtedly true that “indolence,family disfunction and substance abuse” consigns very many indigenous Australians to “despair and poverty”

    Why is it bigoted to say that? Everybody knows that is true.

    Or do you just dislike the word indolent?

  25. akn

    The problem with the statement, Bill, is the way that it is introduced with the word ‘indolence’ which sets the tone of the entire clause. Beyond that, however, the comment is in line with a long Australian tradition of negative attitudes towards Indigenous Australians that is simply in denial of the reality presented, for example, in NIT and Koori Mail both of which papers present a very different picture of Indigenous Australians as vibrant, economically productive, culturally sophisticated and astute. If S-C had suggested that s/he objected to spending welfare dollars on any people characterised as ‘indolent, dysfunctional, substance abusing’ rather than racialising his or her objections then it would be a different story.

  26. paul walter

    Dead right, akn. “Indolence” reflects a moral judgement and one unproven as well as insulting and unjustified by any rational measure, to boot. The “indolence” is more likely an apathy reaction brought on thru the dysfunctionality, a more judgement free and accurate descriptor, especially as it relates across the span of Australian history.
    Mercurius, it’s both an attack by the state, as domesticated muscle for big capital and of course on it (civil society).

  27. FDB

    “it is undoubtedly true that “indolence,family disfunction and substance abuse” consigns very many indigenous Australians to “despair and poverty””

    Well, the causation could run in completely the opposite direction. Obviously it’s a cycle though, or downward spiral.

    However the original comment left no doubt that it’s the fault of indolent Aborigines that they are poor, rather than the pretty obvious reality that many who are indolent are so because of poverty.

  28. harleymc

    At heart social democracy is essentially very conservative, it only seeks to tweak the roughest edges off opression, it does not seek to change the fundamentals. It tries to put the lipstick on the rotty.

  29. Sabbra Cadabra

    FDB says:

    “However the original comment left no doubt that it’s the fault of indolent Aborigines that they are poor, rather than the pretty obvious reality that many who are indolent are so because of poverty.”

    Incorrect. I’m not that interested in the blame game. I’m interested in results.

    AKN says:

    “Beyond that, however, the comment is in line with a long Australian tradition of negative attitudes towards Indigenous Australians that is simply in denial of the reality presented, for example, in NIT and Koori Mail both of which papers present a very different picture of Indigenous Australians as vibrant, economically productive, culturally sophisticated and astute.”

    Really? That sounds like a very good argument for slashing welfare payments.

  30. FDB

    “Incorrect. I’m not that interested in the blame game.”

    Ah, so trying to work out the direction of causation is ‘playing the blame game’, is it, Captain Results?

    Holy shit, that’s some chutzpah. I salute the consummate ease with which you dissemble. Bravissimo!

  31. akn

    S-C: hopeless.

    Welfare isn’t handed out on the basis of ‘race’. There are no ‘special benefits’ for Indigenous Australians.

    On the basis of your logic non-Aboriginal Australians wouldn’t be entitled to welfare because other non-Indegenous Australians were economically successful.

  32. paul walter

    SC, its more about disadvantaged people somehow triumphing in adversity.
    They should cut your income and have you live in a humpy on the outskirts of some dusty outback town, with no real option for an “out” also.
    Let alone the other aspects of a deprived childhood.
    You strike me as a younger person with a little while to go yet, before your EQ begins to catch up with your IQ.
    A taste of adversity will knock the bs out of you one day; no doubt it will happen if your attitude toward people out in the real world is as condescending and judgemental as it is online.
    Finally, perhaps then you’ll be a bit more tolerant of others less fortunate than yourself.