Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Neoliberalism, market fundamentalism and the colonization of Aboriginal policy

"Neo-liberalism is a hungry beast and this 21st Century strain of capitalism is shaping the agenda for control of Aboriginal lands...........Australian Government policy is heavily influenced by neo-liberalism through its extraordinary emphasis on managing access for mining companies to resources on Aboriginal lands. This involves controlling what is still perceived as ‘the Aboriginal problem’ and forcing a social transition from traditional values and cultural practice to ‘mainstream’ modernism of a particular brand. It also involves displacing many Aboriginal people from their traditional lands and concentrating them in ‘growth towns.......To make any sense of the aggression behind most current Indigenous policy in Australia you need to study the impact of neo-liberalism around the globe"  
Jeff McMullen

The Australian journalist, writer and social justice campaigner Jeff McMullen has written two cogent and articulate critiques of the colonization of Aboriginal policy making in this country by the cancer of neo-liberalism (or what others call market fundamentalism). 

One of Jeff McMullen's articles The New Land Grab is available on line here (in The New Internationalist blog). The second piece is a book chapter titled Dispossession- Neoliberalism and the Struggle for Aboriginal Land and Rights in the 21st Century which appears in a new book In Black and White: Australians at the Cross Roads (edited by Rhonda Craven, Anthony Dillon & Nigel Parbury). This article is available here on Jeff McMullen's own website

In drawing on the work of David Harvey and others, and incorporating the voices of Aboriginal people, McMullen makes the case that neoliberalism is a key driver of the agenda for the control of Aboriginal lands and assimilation of Aboriginal people in Australia.  

Neoliberalism, McMullen argues is the ideological underpinning of a uniquely Australian strain of state-corporate capitalism that aims to control Aboriginal communities to enable exploitation of the land and mineral wealth on Aboriginal lands. McMullan argues that the real goal here is the upward redistribution of land and mineral wealth.

McMullen demonstrates the way that successive Federal and State Governments have used the coercive powers of the state to impose an agenda of modernization, control of Aboriginal lands and assimilation and assault on Aboriginal rights and culture.

Drawing on David Harvey's book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, McMullen identifies 4 essential features of the neoliberal agenda and analyses the extent to which they are manifest in Aboriginal policy making in this country:
  1. Privatization and commodification of public and community goods. This has occurred through the privatization of Aboriginal lands, via policies that open up Aboriginal land to resource exploitation and attempts to override community land ownership and impose private property ownership rights.
  2. Financialization to treat good or bad events as opportunities for economic speculation.
  3. Management and manipulation of crises to establish a neoliberal agenda. This includes using the  Northern Territory Intervention as justification for  exerting greater control over Aboriginal communities to enable market and corporate exploitation of the minerals and resources on Aboriginal lands and the use  of 'military style campaigns to exert control and challenge Aboriginal sovereignty
  4. State redistribution of wealth, not to the poor but to the rich and powerful.
Analyzing Aboriginal policy through the lens of neoliberalism as McMullen does, helps us to understand what drives social policies such as the Northern Territory Intervention and the social engineering to control Aboriginal people still living on traditional lands, as well as the aggressive land grab by mining and resource companies, aided and abetted by Federal and State Governments, which divides Aboriginal communities, and even Aboriginal families.  He writes:
'Neoliberalism connects the agendas of modernising Aboriginal culture and allowing mining companies to vigorously exploit and minimal cost the mineral treasures on Aboriginal lands'.
McMullen points to the divide and conquer tactics of mining companies and governments in the Kimberley and Pilbara in Western Australia, across the Northern Territory, on Cape York and in parts of NSW and South Australia, as manifestation of these neoliberal agendas.

McMullen is scathing about the role played by influential Aboriginal leaders, such as Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton and Warren Mundine who have become influential advocates and brokers for neoliberal policies and have gathered adherents and supporters in both political parties and corporate Australia.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

In memory of Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012)

With the death of Elinor Ostrom, activist and campaigners for social and economic justice have lost an important advocate and supporter.

Ostrom who was a Professor at Indiana University was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences in 2009.

Ostrom's work challenged and rebutted fundamental economic beliefs, particularly free market and neo-classical economic paradigms. Ostrom was particularly concerned with relational aspects of economic activity — the ways in which people interact and negotiate with each other to forge rules and informal social understandings.

Ostrom's early work focused on what she called co-production. Ostrom argued that many public services depend heavily on the contribution of time and effort by the persons who consume these services, i.e., the clients and citizens.Ostrom believed that services rely as much upon the unacknowledged knowledge, assets and efforts of service ‘users’ as the expertise of professional providers. It was the informal understanding of local communities and the on the ground relationships that make services more effective.

Co-production describes the relationship that exist between ‘regular producers’, like health workers, police, and schoolteachers and their ‘clients’ who may be transformed by the services into safer, better educated and/or healthier persons.

Ostrom defined co-production as

“…the mix of activities that both public service agents and citizens contribute to the provision of public services. The former are involved as professionals, or ‘regular producers’, while ‘citizen production’ is based on voluntary efforts by individuals and groups to enhance the quality and/or quantity of the services they use”

One implication is that privatization of public services and the turning over of services to the market fundamentally transforms the relationship between provider and service user and hampers the development of co-production and democratic governance.

Her later work examined how people and communities collaborate and organize themselves to manage collective shared resources like forests, fisheries and natural and social resources. The research overturned the conventional wisdom about government regulation and challenged the idea that private ownership of public resources is better and more effective. Ostrom's work provides clear evidence that the commons-based traditions of cooperation and communal management of resources is not a violation of basic economic common sense.

Her work undermines political conservatives and mainstream economists who denigrate collectively managed property and government and who argue that only private property and the "free market" can responsibly manage resources. Her work also directly challenges current ideas that privatization and private ownership and expert management of resources is the most effective strategy.

Ostrom advocated a “polycentric” approach to managing shared or common resources involving oversight “at multiple levels with autonomy at each level. Ostrom argued that shared management of resources helps to establish rules that “tend to encourage the growth of trust and reciprocity” among people who use and care for a particular commons.

Ostrim argued that key management decisions should be made as close to the scene of events and the actors involved as possible.

Her work showed that the people most affected by or with a stake in a particular resource are the ones best able to collaborate to use and manage those shared resources effectively and sustainably.

Ostrom's work demonstrates the importance of shared (collective) rather than expert or private management of resources and knowledge and emphasises the importance of active citizen partcipation. She cited a comprehensive study of 100 forests in 14 countries that detailed how the involvement of local people in decisionmaking is more important to successfully sustaining healthy forests than who is actually in charge of the forests.

David Bollier writes of the significance of Ostrom's work:

In the 1970s, economics was quickly veering into a kind of religious fundamentalism. It was a discipline obsessed with “rational individualism,” private property rights and markets even though the universe of meaningful human activity is much broader and complex. Lin Ostrom pioneered a different, more humanistic way of thinking about “the economy” and resource management. She originally focused on property rights and “common-pool resources,” collective resources over which no one has private property rights or exclusive control, such as fishers, grazing lands and groundwater. This work later evolved into a broader study of the commons as a rich, cross-cultural socio-ecological paradigm. Working within the social sciences, Ostrom proceeded to build a new school of thought within the standard economic narrative while extending it in vital ways.

Ostrom's work also has direct relevance to the current economic and environment crises. She wrote:

"We cannot rely on singular global policies to solve the problem of managing our common resources: the oceans, atmosphere, forests, waterways, and rich diversity of life that combine to create the right conditions for life, including seven billion humans, to thrive.....Success will hinge on developing many overlapping policies to achieve the goals,.......We have a decade to act before the economic cost of current viable solutions becomes too high. Without action, we risk catastrophic and perhaps irreversible changes to our life-support system.”

Articles written in memory of her work are here, here, here and here.

A reading list of her work is here.

The last article she wrote before she died is here

Her last book, published just before her death was titled Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice, and describes the advantages of using several different research methods to study a problem.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Service provider's religious views to determine public services

There are plenty of reasons to oppose the Barnett Government's privatization of public hospitals and public health services at Fiona Stanley Hospital and the Midland Hospital.

Here is another one (article here).  

The Acting Health Minister has confirmed that religious beliefs are likely to affect what services are provided at the Midland Health Campus which is due to open in 2015.

At this stage of negotiations, procedures such as vasectomies and abortions would not be carried out at the new hospital because the likely service provider, Catholic, not for profit group- St John of God Health Care does not allow their staff to perform them.

Acting Health minister Troy Buswell confirmed that he did not expect such procedures to be done at the Midland Health Campus.

Opposition health spokesperson Roger Cook said the service provider would not carry out procedures that they considered to be interfering with the process of life and this was a concern to the community.

Mr Cook said the public would be given a truncated service dictated by the private operator.

He said this outcome was a result of privatisation.

"The moment you privatise, you lose accountability and the ability to govern what goes on in the public hospital system," Mr Cook said.

St John of God Health Care is the Government's preferred tender for the health campus and contract negotiations are ongoing.
The religious views of the provider of a public hospital should never determine what services are provided. We must oppose the imposition of outdated catholic theology on the provision of a public service.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Phillip Pullman and the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism

"there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about.. things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight"   Phillip Pullman
This speech by the British novelist and writer Philip Pullman describes the 'greedy ghost of market fundamentalism' that haunts the offices, meeting rooms and conference rooms of Governments all over the world. 
Pullman describes how everything that sustains the fabric of a decent society and of communities is destroyed by the onslaught of the market fundamentalists and their acolytes. He is right. A great speech.
 "And it always results in victory for one side and defeat for the other. It’s set up to do that. It’s imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one arena that used to be safe from them, the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market. 
Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of political power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. I think that little by little we’re waking up to the truth about the market fanatics and their creed. We’re coming to see that old Karl Marx had his finger on the heart of the matter when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we know, everything we thought was safe and solid. It is the most powerful solvent known to history. “Everything solid melts into air,” he said. “All that is holy is profaned.”
Market fundamentalism, this madness that’s infected the human race, is like a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms and council chambers and committee rooms from which the world is run these days"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Market based approaches are a threat to vulnerable people

images by Simon Bosch, courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald

State and Federal Governments of all persuasion continue their love affair with "market based approaches" to the provision of health services and human and community services. 

These market based approaches take many forms, including privatization and contracting out of government services, competitive tendering of services to not-for- profit and for profit agencies, increasing use of for-profit providers and the private sector  to provide services, use of user pay and cost recovery principles, the application of business metrics and the imposition of corporate management models and approaches that have their origins in the for- profit business context.

But they all are predicated on the assumption that applying market principles to the delivery of health and human and community services will drive innovation, deliver greater efficiency and better quality services and save Governments money.

However, the worsening crises we face in so many areas of social and public policy are largely the result of an over reliance on market based approaches in service delivery and/or the increasing reliance on the private/corporate sector as a provider of services.

The crises in affordable housing, the collapse of corporate provider ABC Learning in childcare, the crises enveloping aged care, the problems resulting from the privatization of employment services, the costs and inaccessibility of many health, medical and dental services, the accelerating cost of public services such as water, gas and electricity, the rationing of services for children and families, are all examples of social policy problems that have been created or compounded by market based approaches.

Adele Horin's piece in the Sydney Morning Herald Sad Truth behind Closed Doors is further evidence of the dangers of relying on market based and for- profit approaches in the delivery of health and human services. Horin shows that a reliance on market based approaches is a threat to the health and well being of vulnerable people. 

Horin argues that the reliance on for- profit providers of boarding houses  to accommodate and support people with mental illness has failed to protect and improve the lives of  vulnerable people. Horin draws on the work of Sydney academic Gabriel Drake who calls the rise of licensed boarding houses in Sydney, as "the privatisation of the back wards". 

In a study of inner Sydney licensed boarding houses, Drake describes a situation where large numbers of people with only their disability in common,  live together with little to do, receive poor mental and physical health care, and have few chances to learn skills. Their pension is handed over. They can't afford a bus fare. They become highly dependent on the boarding house owner.

Horin describes how the failure by Governments to provide the funds  and support to people with mental illness who were "de-institutionalized" and moved out of large psychiatric institutions meant that they were thrown to the vagaries of the "market"
And so hundreds moved into the boarding houses which were run for profit with minimal or no accountability or monitoring. People with sometimes serious conditions, such as schizophrenia, went from the state being in charge of their welfare to a boarding house owner.

The state passed a law to license boarding houses that accommodated people with psychological or intellectual disabilities. But three Ombudsman's reports in nine years - two of them secret and the latest delivered to the Minister for Disability Services last month - testify to the failure of the responsible government department, Ageing, Disability and Home Care, to do its job of inspecting and monitoring the boarding houses properly.

A weak law, and some aggressive licensees, did not help the hapless bureaucrats in their role of protecting and improving the lives of the vulnerable residents.

It is time the state government took a serious look at boarding houses, both the licensed kind, and the unlicensed, which cater to a slightly different clientele of poor, single tenants often with alcohol and gambling addictions.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More evidence of the failure of market led reform in Australia: market reform in water threatens Australia's future

"Australian water is now effectively commoditised: allocated to whoever is willing to pay the going price"
Ian Douglas
Excellent article by Ian Douglas of Fair Water Use Australia on the failure of market approaches in national water reform.:
"This blind commitment to growth, which also suffuses the policy platforms of the major parties, is being used to justify public-private partnerships and the construction of ill-conceived and untenably costly water infrastructure, most notoriously desalination plants. Our governments appear quite comfortable entering into public-private partnerships with multinationals whose track record in terms of corporate responsibility on the global stage is, at best, in-glorious."
Douglas argues that the reliance on market based approaches and the privatization of water is incompatible with the idea of access to water as a public good and poses a serious threat to Australia's water future:

Douglas argues that despite the fact that polling indicates that at least 70% of Australians are opposed to water privatization it continues to be imposed on the nation, under the guise of water reform:
"Australian water reform was conceived in 1994 by the Council of Australian Governments; nurtured by the prevailing mantra that free-market exposure was the ultimate panacea for undercapitalised and inefficient public utilities. COAG went one giant leap further, in deciding to establish a national water market; arguing that this would direct water to its most productive use.

In the years since these sweeping changes were announced, the wisdom of applying free market principles to the management of an essential natural resource has been largely discredited by events overseas: In the water-supply sector, major corporate players have been accused and, in more than a few instances, convicted of price-gouging, anti-competitive behaviour, corrupt practice and fraud. On all continents there are moves to wrest control from private corporations. Globally, more than 90 per cent of water services are now publicly owned.

In Australia there are valid concerns that water reform is leaving crucial decisions, with respect to the “where”, “when” and “how” of water distribution, in the hands of entities whose priority is profit rather than socially and environmentally responsible water use. Questions are being raised as to why our governments have been prepared to implement these radical policies without seeking and obtaining prior electoral mandate and in the absence of adequate constitutional protection of water.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The failure of market driven reform in Australia

John Quiggin is one of a growing number of Australian economists who continue to make the case that the market-based reforms imposed by Federal and State Governments over the last two decades have not delivered the anticipated benefits for consumers and ordinary citizens, and in many cases have been unmitigated failures.

Market led reform assumes that market-based solutions are always best, regardless of the problem.

Other important contrarian economic voices about market driven neoliberal reform championed by mainstream economists and Australian governments of all persuasions can be found on the pages of Dissent, the excellent journal edited by the Age and Sydney Morning Herald economics writer Kenneth Davidson and in the Journal of Australian Political Economy produced out of the University of Sydney. Bloggers such as Billy Blog (Bill Mitchell) also provide important critiques of mainstream economics, as do academic economists and public commentators such as Con and Betty Walker.

In today's Australian Financial Review John Quiggin argues that:
The failure of reform is most dramatically evident in the infrastructure sector, and particularly for utilities such as electricity, telecommunications and water.
Quiggin argues that the benefits of market led reform that were promised by its proponents have not resulted. Whilst there were some benefits in the short term, in the longer term the proposed benefits for consumers and society have not been sustained. Prices have not lowered but increased. Supposedly, allowing the market to rip would bring more choice and better quality of service. Neither have happened.

As Quiggin points out, the privatization of telecommunications and electricity have been unmitigated failures for consumers and society. Electricity price inflation has reached double digit levels and the break up of electricity utilities into separate generation, distribution and retail sectors has created massive new problems.

Quiggin argues that it is time for policy makers, politicians and commentators to accept that the mantra of market led reform has been a complete failure in the infrastructure sector. He writes that:
Faith in reform has proved utterly impervious to contrary evidence. The only answer to the failure of reforms has been to conclude that more reform in needed.
But as John Quiggin notes the lure of market led reform is still all powerful:
Despite this and other failures, the incantation of ‘reform’ retains its magical power. The politically and economically disastrous privatisation program in NSW was justified entirely on the basis that it was needed in order that reform could continue.
It is, perhaps, too much to ask that such an appealing word should be abandoned. But can’t we at least admit that the 1980s reform program has had its day, and look for some reforms more appropriate to the 21st century?
The failure of market driven neoliberal reform in the infrastructure sector (water, telecommunications, utilities, and public infrastructure) and in many other areas of Australian social and economic life, including health, housing, social welfare, retirement incomes, aged care, education, child care, human and community services and the environment and climate change, are core themes in Australian journals such as Dissent and  the Journal of Australian Political Economy, which in each edition document the harm that has been done by market driven neoliberal reform in this country.

More Australians need to support and read the important work done by economists such as John Quiggin, Bill Mitchell, Con and Betty Walker and all those associated with journals such as Dissent and The Australian Journal of Political Economy.