The 90th issue of the Journal of Australian Political Economy was published this week, at the end of a deeply troubling year – with Russia’s war on Ukraine, the emergence of strong inflationary tendencies, growing fears of economic recession, and mounting evidence of deepening climate change. Incisive political economic analysis is always needed for understanding what is happening in the world around us – but now more than ever.
The war on Ukraine – and concerns about the effects of economic sanctions, more generally – triggers the opening article. It is a written version of the 2022 Wheelwright lecture presented in October by Jessica Whyte to a large in-person audience on the Sydney Uni campus. Her article reflects on the general limits of sanctions, including their ineffectiveness in meeting the stated objectives and their tendency to harm other people more than their supposed targets.
A second article looks at why governments may implement austerity policies over and beyond what seems ‘economically rational’ from a neoliberal perspective. Written by Canadian political economist Rodney Loeppke, it focuses on recent health policy reforms in the USA, seeking to explain why political parties such as the Republicans oppose efficient means of service delivery that actually give good ‘bang for the buck’. Loeppke argues that, in supporting austerity policies, conservatives now regard their punitive aspect as even more important than the neoliberal aspect.
The nature of neoliberalism is further explored in the third article in the new issue of JAPE, in which Tim Anderson posits the centrality of US imperialism in neoliberal practices worldwide. Debates over the nature of neoliberalism – as an ideology, a political movement or practical policy approach – have been bubbling along for decades. This article provides a clear statement of a distinctive contribution that seeks to reorient the political economic understanding of neoliberalism and its influence, emphasising the USA’s hegemonic role.
What about climate change? The fourth article in the new JAPE points to the limits of so-called ‘ecological modernisation’ which emphasises technological solutions to the environmental challenge. Co-authors Hans Baer and Merrill Singer show the limitations of this approach and point to the need for more fundamental socio-economic changes associated with an eco-socialist transformation.
Corporate power, of course, stands as a major obstacle to any such transformation – or to any reformist government policies that might undermine corporate profits and power. An article by Lindy Edwards reflects on the politics underlying the evidence and arguments she presented in her book ‘Corporate Power in Australia: Do the 1% Rule?’. She makes the case for political economic analysis and policy developments that distinguish between productive and non-productive sources of profits, encouraging the former and inhibiting the latter.
With the advent of the Albanese-led ALP government this year, such concerns are particularly pertinent. Can democratic processes and governmental institutions be effective in redirecting economic development towards more productive, equitable and sustainable outcomes? Two review articles in the new JAPE, written by Geoff Dow and Rob Watts, provide insights into post-liberalism and progressive visions of justice and democracy.
On a sadder note, this new issue of JAPE includes obituaries of four Australian of considerable significance in Australian political economy – Ray Broomhill, Geoff Harcourt, Stephen Castles and George Venturini.
Finally, it presents thought-provoking reviews and notes on twelve recent books, mostly by local authors. In this respect, Australian political economy is clearly alive and well, offering a means of understanding and addressing the challenges in a currently dangerous, inequitable, unstable and unsustainable world.