The Journal of Australian Political Economy has a long-standing commitment to publishing articles on the evolving political economic conditions and challenges in Australia and the world economy. This ongoing concern is evident in the contents of the latest issue.
Each article directly engages with contemporary concerns, including housing affordability and the effects of the pandemic; the effects of superannuation on the risks and inequalities facing Australian households; the environmental and public policy challenges of dealing with waste; the impact of neoliberalism on international inequalities; the changing role of the developmental state; economic development, and much else besides.
One article, jointly authored by five academics from across two Faculties at Sydney Uni, looks at the ‘dynamics of the asset economy’ in Australia, showing that the major dimensions of inequality have changed because of the inflation in asset values, particularly real estate. It points to an ever-deepening gulf in Australia between wealthy asset holders and those who are economically on the outer, particularly younger people aspiring to home ownership. It shows how the COVID pandemic has tended to exacerbate such inequalities.
Canadian political economist Susanne Soederberg’s article, based on the Wheelwright Lecture she presented at Sydney Uni, looks at related issues of housing affordability as they affect European cities, particularly, Dublin, Berlin and Vienna. Her article focusses particularly on the stresses affecting people in rental accommodation, viewing this as a direct result of the ‘class dynamics driving the continued expansion of accumulation’.
So, who are the winners from this accumulation process? Readers of JAPE will not be surprised to learn that it is the top wealth-holders, especially the top 1%. Is that the social price to be paid for having a dynamic growth-oriented economy? An article written by two political economists from Queensland casts fascinating light on this question. It analyses data on overall income growth and inequalities for a range of countries to determine whether – and for whom – neoliberalism has been an economic success. We don’t think it spoils the story to say that the evidence indicates a negative sum-game.
The channels through which inequalities are reproduced include superannuation. ln the Australian case, this involves ‘forced saving’ by workers, generating a phenomenal volume of investable funds. An article in the new JAPE, written jointly by political economists from South Australia and Western Australia, poses the questions: does super provide adequate retirement incomes? Does it increase gender inequalities? And does it increase the risks facing households? In each case, deeply troubling issues are revealed, particularly because the system – and how financialisation has shaped it – embeds Australians’ retirement incomes into ‘ongoing dependence on market forces’.
Then there is the question of waste. This is one of the many important environmental challenges of the era but, like so many political economic concerns, how it is dealt with depends on how it is conceptualised. A former winner of the JAPE Young Scholars Award, in her article, explores how Australia’s waste policies have evolved. It shows the limitations – perhaps ultimate futility – of trying to get rid of waste at the ‘end’ of the production-consumption process, because this does not acknowledge that its origins are in the nature of the production process itself.
The last full-length article switches attention and location to South Korea’s experience with the ‘developmental state’. This was internationally recognised as an exemplar for successful creating rapid industrialisation and economic growth. Has the Korean state’s more recent embrace of neoliberalism undermined its former role in promoting development? The sophisticated analysis that the author presents highlights elements of both continuity and change.
To round off the contents of this new issue of JAPE, there is a review article on economic development in Africa. Focussing on a recent book by Franklin Obeng-Odoom, this review is written by Walden Bello, a leading Global South scholar and presenter of the very first Wheelwright Lecture. There is also a substantial review of Geoff Hodgson’s new book, which asks the question of whether heterodox economics has a future.
Well, political economy certainly seems to have a future, taking JAPE as an indication of the current state of play. We have written this succinct summary of what appears in the latest issue, pointing to examples of new writing and ongoing research, to show the diverse contributors and the pertinent and practical character of their contributions.
Engaging with heterodox economics is a means of escaping the straightjacket of mainstream economics. It becomes yet more relevant – as political economy – when linking with cognate social sciences to address the array of contemporary economic, social, environmental and political challenges. The next step, of course, is trying to make such research translate into effective political economic change.
As always, the full contents of the latest issue of the Journal are freely available on the Journal of Australian Political Economy pages of Progress in Political Economy.
The next issue of JAPE, to be published at the end of the year, will be a special theme issue on another currently pressing concern, both in Australia and globally: ‘reversing the resource curse: energy transition and decolonisation’.