The Journal of Australian Political Economy is published twice a year. It has been running ever since the Australian political economy movement emerged in the 1970s.
JAPE has just published its 77th issue, and it is a particularly interesting one. As the journal’s coordinating editor, I suppose I should confess to some bias in this judgment, but it’s clear that we’ve got together something rather special together for this latest issue. It is the combination of big topics and diverse contributors – ranging from internationally well-known political economists to local first-time authors – that is distinctive.
The lead article is by the renowned US class analyst Erik Olin Wright, based on the 2015 Wheelwright lecture he presented at the University of Sydney. It explores how to be an anti-capitalist for the twenty-first century. ‘Smashing capitalism’ is an impossible and probably undesirable aim, he argues, while ‘reforming capitalism’ is fraught with its own contradictions. An alternative is ‘eroding capitalism’ through grass-roots initiatives to organise important aspects of our lives on cooperative principles, thereby developing viable alternatives that do not depend on the endless pursuit of profit. Wright argues that, when combined with reforming capitalism through social democratic politics, an evolutionary transformation then becomes feasible. At a time when many of us in Australia are preoccupied with the forthcoming parliamentary election (perhaps while struggling to stay focused, or even awake), this is great food for thought about longer-term strategy and principles for progressive political economic change.
Yanis Varoufakis, the controversial former Greek finance minister, follows on with an article offering important insights about how national governments are currently forced into inappropriate austerity policies by international financial interests. Yanis has recently become an Honorary Professor in Political Economy at the University of Sydney, and his article is based on a talk he gave there when the appointment was announced. Not surprisingly, it focuses on lessons from the Greek experience that he experienced first hand. The implications are more general, however. With the UK referendum on ‘Brexit’, the pros and cons of being in the EU are much in the spotlight, with potential implications that could flow on elsewhere and even ripple worldwide. Yanis, as committed European, posits a push for a more comprehensively democratic Europe as a preferable alternative.
Dick Bryan is the third of the well-known contributors, having taught political economy at the University of Sydney for over three decades and established a personal reputation as one of the world’s leading Marxist economists. His article in the latest JAPE is the retirement speech he presented a couple of months ago. Written with characteristic charm and insight, it combines a stocktaking of Marxist economic theory with personal reflections on the challenges he and we all face.
Dick’s contribution is followed by Tom Bramble’s analysis of the Australian economy after the end of the most recent Mining Boom. Tom has been a regular contributor to Australian debates about capitalism in practice, blending his Marxian class perspective with economic data drawn from mainstream sources. His up-to-date analysis points to the need for a post-Mining Boom transition, but the parallel with Malcolm Turnbull ends there: rather, Tom’s article invites us to consider ‘transition to what?’, ‘driven by whom?’ and ‘in whose interests?’
And that’s not all, folks…
These four ‘state of the art’ contributions from big-hitters in political economic analysis are supplemented by three articles by newcomers on the scene. These are valuable contributions by young political economists who have been studying and researching political economic issues in Australia.
Renata Ferreira, a previous winner of the JAPE annual Young Scholar Award winner, writes about Australian housing policy, developing a framework for understanding what’s gone wrong. She shows how successive regimes shaped by financial interests have continually frustrated the achievement of affordable housing for all. The unaffordable housing problem is well-known and much-discussed in the mainstream media, of course, but Renata’s analysis probes it in historical context with distinctive analytical depth, linking it to broader concerns about ‘financialisation’.
Patrick Brownlee, who completed a PhD in Political Economy last year, also makes a valuable contribution, writing about how immigration to Australia is increasingly focussed on ‘capital’s lieutenants’. These are people who work within, and help to organise global value chains, rather than being directly engaged in productive work that generates surplus value for local capitalist businesses. Patrick’s article situates the changing character of Australian immigration policy in a novel political economic context.
Finally, Godofredo Ramizo, Jnr., a recent Masters graduate in Public Policy at the University of Queensland, reviews the international experience with industrial policy. Political economists have commonly noted that the absence of any coherent industrial policies in Australia at present is part of the ‘transition’ problem, leaving many manufacturing industries floundering. Ramizo’s review is a sobering assessment of some of the pitfalls to be anticipated if any future government were to take the alternative industry policy road.
All the articles can be seen freely on the journal’s website at https://www.jape.org.
Forthcoming issues of JAPE are expected to feature special theme issues on ‘Global Inequality and Development’ and ‘What’s Wrong with Economics?’
Readers who are interested in getting hard copies of the journal (a collection of which would look good on your bookshelf!) and/or in contributing articles can correspond with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.