The Science and Ethics of Austerity: Lessons from the US and Europe

John Buell
  is a columnist for The Progressive Populist and   
   a faculty adjunct at Cochise College. His most    
   recent book is, Politics, Religion, and Culture 
   in an Anxious Age.

Around the world, corporate media and even substantial segments of the working class have embraced an old religious creed, the celebration of austerity. Its cold bath is supposed to rid us of our sins. Its tenets stand in contrast to the academic wisdom of post World War II generation and to many of the metrics commonly accepted across the political spectrum. We cannot understand the power of this reborn orthodoxy without addressing its complex roots.  Several historical narratives converge. They reflect and sustain compelling social and personal identities. These seem especially comforting amidst cultural and economic turmoil. Nonetheless, if this austerity is not effectively challenged, it may unleash forces as destructive as those of the thirties. And stopping austerity will also require critical scrutiny of much of the liberal and neo-Keynesian critiques that thus far constitute the only serious systemic response to austerity’s lure.
The story of the new austerity is truly intercontinental and transhistorical. Its most recent vintage begins with a crisis narrative: The Eurozone stands on the brink of collapse because devious or shortsighted European politicians overspent and now are unwilling to curb excess government spending. Greece is the most flagrant example.
In this narrative, Europe is especially culpable because it has failed to learn from its own history. Excess spending in Germany under the Weimar Republic led to hyperinflation, social panic, and the rise of the Nazis.
Part three of this trilogy warns that the United States is about to become Greece, unable to pay its debts and soon to be bankrupt. President Obama, has presided over an inordinate expansion of the Federal Government.  Perhaps his most devastating blunder was an 800 billion dollar stimulus package that added to our debt and failed to produce any jobs.
Every element of this trilogy is now taken as gospel across sectors of the corporate media from Fox to NPR Every part, however, will not meet examinations that rely on the most generally accepted statistical checks and historical reckonings.
Pundits talk about Greek debt and tax evasion and then goes on to assume that other nations now experiencing difficulties financing their debt were similarly profligate. Dean Baker effectively combats these cliches:
“Spain had a budget surplus before the economic collapse. Spain had a budget surplus… Perhaps repeating this line three times will help the… people who have columns in the Washington Post… get some understanding of the issue. .the only euro zone country that looks much like Greece is Greece. The other euro zone crisis countries had hugely better finances in the years [before] the crisis.”
Europe’s embrace of austerity is especially troublesome because it evokes memories of fascism. Many commentators constantly reiterate that Weimar hyperinflation led to the Nazis. Hyperinflation, however, occurred in the early twenties when the Weimar Republic chose to pay its obligations by printing more money. The Nazis were and remained a minority party during the Weimar hyperinflation.  They grew during massive deflationary pressures occasioned by Depression and by the government’s harsh austerity measures taken in the face of contracting demand.
Thirdly, runaway government spending under Obama is another figment of the imagination that has become received wisdom. There has been virtually no expansion of discretionary government programs. The deficit has ballooned because the collapse of the housing bubble reduced government revenues and increased obligations under standard, long- time government insurance programs.
Why do these stories persist? They dovetail and resonate with each other, thereby lending plausibility to each. In addition, their prevalence reflects the state of economics education.  As Paul Krugman has pointed out, in many colleges and universities, Keynesian economics in any form is not even presented as an alternative. Students are not exposed to views that would question the efficacy of government austerity in the face of private sector collapse.
The power of austerity has other deep roots and so it is unlikely to be defeated merely by counterarguments based on standard statistical measures, Austerity is a moral ideal closely tied to a strong sense of identity, one that is grounded not merely on a formal conceptual level but in gut feelings and shared sensibilities.  We skimp, save, do our homework before we play. We are brought up on tales of the ant and the grasshopper.  Many working class citizens do harbor doubts—often semiconscious or half articulated-- about the future of the American dream or even its worth. There is, however, no widely articulated alternative to austerity. The pain and the doubts it occasions can be assuaged by ensuring its imposition on everyone. Nationalism, with its sense of a virtuous, parsimonious we and spendthrift foreigners, sustains and is sustained by the austerity religion. All of this is reinforced by today’s widespread “common sense” that just as families must pay off their debts so must governments.
The stimulus debate is a good place to examine some of these cultural issues and connections. It did add a small amount to the deficit, but again there is substantial evidence that it prevented the loss of jobs that would otherwise have occurred. Christina Romer, drawing on studies that strive to control for the effects of other variable that might influence consumer spending, makes a strong case. These include examination of spending patterns of families before and after they received the $500 tax rebate check. Examination of the effects of military spending on individual Congressional districts also reveals that when military spending increases, consumer spending goes up more in states with a large defense presence for reasons having nothing to do with current economic conditions in the state. (page 11, Romer Talk, link in Krugman blog, February 19)
Most conservatives acknowledge and even advertize the job- creating effects of military spending. The current wisdom is that military spending creates jobs, whereas spending on schools and public transit systems is wasted.  Yet the same methodologies that demonstrate the job- creating effect of military spending show gains for domestic spending as well. Why is evidence in one case accepted but not in the other? The military budget is coded in terms of opposition to an external enemy and in support of our free enterprise, self-reliant system. The other is often portrayed as unmerited support for the poor, those who are as not merely lacking in self-reliance and hard work but as thereby active enemies of and threats to our values, thus in much the same terms we construe foreign enemies. Speaking to Nationwide Insurance employees in Des Moines, Iowa Newt Gingrich said “Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working, and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday… They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’—unless it’s illegal."
Combating these degrading moralisms makes demands that are more than merely cognitive. Some on the liberal/left argue that the factual case for stimulus etc is overwhelming. As Romer puts it: 
“When I was in the White House, I used to bristle when people would say I was a Keynesian economist. They acted as if I believed that fiscal stimulus mattered because of some theoretical book written in 1936… I used to say I am not a Keynesian economist, I am an empirical economist. I believe what I do because of the empirical evidence.”  
I agree with the case Romer builds and especially appreciate the way she presents the obvious contradictions in the current mainstream line. Nonetheless, I have several qualms. George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling argue: “voting decisions are fundamentally taken on the basis of values and empathy. Policies and facts matter; they are, however, not absorbed in isolation but are moreover embedded in values. Politicians therefore need to communicate a value framework in which policies are embedded and add up to a coherent programme….” (Common Dreams,   )
Combatting this worldview requires more than statistics on the number of applicants for every open job. This identity politics is inscribed not merely through abstract ideas but also in gut feelings that resonate across social space and amplify and focus themselves in the process.  A recent post by LSU scholar John Protevi in The Contemporary Condition blog contends: “affect is "in the air," something like the mood of a party, which is not the mere aggregate of the subjective states of the party-goers. In this sense, affect is not emergent from pre-existing subjectivities; emotional subjectivities are crystallizations or residues of a collective affect:
“To take a concrete example: what counts in the effective social machine demonizing welfare in the USA is the shame attached to receiving public aid without contributing to society with your tax dollars. It's shameful to have lost your job or your home; you're stupid, a loser to have been in a position to lose it, and you're a lazy, stupid loser if you haven't found another one…And so you don't combat this shame by trying to change individual people's ideas, one by one, with information about unemployment trends; you combat it by showing your face, by embodying your lack of shame, by putting a face on unemployment or homelessness. You thus counteract the existing collective affect by creating a positive affect of, shall we say, joyful solidarity. Shame isolates (you hide your face); joyful solidarity comes from people coming together. It's joy released from the bondage of shame.”
The narrative surrounding government spending is complex and evolving. Government is not some timeless abstraction. Yet even where Keynesian ideas are invoked within the university, Keynes’s insights are narrowed or slighted. As Greek economist Yanis Faroufakis points out, neo Keynesians, most notably Paul Samuelson, tried to synthesize Keynes’s macro with neoclassical micro economics and its core faith in determinate models and market equilibriums.  Keynes had argued that capital and labor markets were inherently indeterminate because they were driven by multiple agents speculations as to the intentions of other agents. Governmental institutions and policies needed to be crafted periodically to cope with the self-intensifying spirals of optimism or pessimism.
In Samuelson’s iconic text, this broad critique is reduced to a simple model, the famous IS/LM model specifying employment and GNP as determined by the intersection of an investment saving curve—all points where desired savings equal desired investment-- and a liquidity preference curve, where the supply of money equals the demand for funds for speculative and transactional purposes. When shocks from outside the system lead to less than optimal employment or inflation, mere injections of government stimulus or interest rate changes can right the system.
Thus with minor and easily modeled adjustments, the basic integrity of a deterministic market framework is maintained. As Varoufakis points out, however, this sort of Keynesian fine tuning, which seemed to work in the fifties and sixties, was backstopped by a broad international political economy that included the fashioning of two other major economic and currency blocks, Japan and the German led Euro common market. These could and did sustain demand in the face of any substantial decline in the US market. In addition, an entire world economy heavily dependent on the US dollar as reserve currency cushioned the dollar against severe reactions to changes in US interest rates or fiscal deficits.      
One must build support for an institutional and policy framework that will spend money appropriately in the face of severe downturns. The narrative about government was positive in the immediate post World War II period. Yet that narrative was dependent on a Cold War mindset that bred its own hubris and overshoot.  The stability bred by Cold War inspired military Keynesianism became the source not merely of increased speculation in financial markets ala Hyman Minsky but also of social tension. Manufacturing workers gained far more than women and minorities in the service sector.  In addition, the stability that government spending and incomes policies delivered to unionized industry in terms of families’ standards of living during the golden age of capitalism may have opened up other problems and modes of consciousness, including questions about the nature of work life, the need for leisure, the role of women. But even most liberal economists failed to recognize let alone address any such considerations.
Part of the problem here is a failure to be sufficiently empirical, to recognize that what we conclude about an economy and society is in part a consequence of what we choose to examine. And mainstream economists, left and right, like to study what is most easily measured.  Varoufakis has called attention to this profound bias at the heart of much liberal theorizing. He contrasts Alfred Marshall’s caution that “most economic phenomena do not lend themselves easily to mathematical expression” to Sasmuelson’s reversal of this notion, that economists not waste time with that which is not quantifiable.
Jobs and spending patterns seem easier to quantify and thus receive the first and for many the only billing. It is harder to quantify such notions as quality of life and thus these receive too little attention from even many liberals. As Christian  Kroll and Sergio Grassi  point out: “In many countries, there are now intense discussions about what makes life worth living, how quality of life can be measured and how government can re-orient itself accordingly. The use of GDP as the main yardstick for public policy was prominently criticized by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission)... the Commission’s recommendation in 2009 was to shift the emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being«. Quite different decisions would be taken if people’s well-being was made the central guideline of public policy and measured in a prominent way. In its final report, the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission therefore writes: "What we measure affects what we do.” Some European social democrats are now organizing forums in which citizens participate in formulating the questions and categories they deem most relevant to quality of life.
Economists of course should not eschew construction of regularities, mathematics and simplifying models. They are useful tools in certain circumstances and can place limits on obviously outlandish claims.  Nonetheless, they work only in specific cultural and social settings and time frames, settings that are complex and mutable, in part in response to these very purported regularities.
  Seventies stagflation, occasioned in part by OPEC and the breakdown of the post WWII international political economy, was something that  technocratic neo Keynesian models had failed to predict or control. These failures led to a return to older faiths in pure markets driven by classical microeconomics. If Samuelson’s IS/LM model failed to explain stagflation why not throw out the whole Keynesian corpus.  Since Samuelson had explained sub-optimal equilibria and the need for periodic fiscal stimulus or interest rate cuts in terms of such ad hoc factors as wage stickiness, why not just do away with such stickiness. Eliminate unions and repeal minimum wage laws.
Doubts about government spending may have been put aside briefly during the height of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, but Obama’s premature declaration of victory over the Great Recession allowed those doubts to reassert themselves.
  In this context, Keynesian economists need to spend more time considering job creation strategies like shorter work hours that might both reduce unemployment, ease burdens on those currently in the workforce, and touch new quality of life concerns. The chance for a little shared leisure and collective joy would go a long way to foster receptivity to others who for whatever reason have not shared the long work grind. Nationalism itself, both here and in Europe, needs closer scrutiny. Today the concept of whole nations as profligate or frugal drives a destructive economic policy in both Europe and the US. Yet Germans are not all frugal ants and Greeks not all spendthrift grasshoppers. And rather than talk abstractly about job creation, let’s discuss and illustrate schools, bridges, and the aesthetic experience of public parks, transit systems etc.  
Thirdly, and most fundamentally, to borrow once again from Varoufakis, an economist is like a meteorologist, but one whose predictions influence the weather. The empirical conclusions we establish will become part of political discourse and will perhaps alter political action. Political views, individual emotions, social science theorizing, and collective affect all interact with each other in complex ways and develop a momentum of their own. Thus we must be attentive to and acknowledge both the role of our own assumptions and the emergence of new unpredictable rights claims and concerns.
Plymouth Museum have recently got back to us, and have selected 6 students to have their work in the China Connection Gallery cabinets for the Sinoptican Show.

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery will be hosting an exhibition entitled ‘Sinopticon’. This is a partnership exhibition between Plymouth Museum & Art Gallery, Plymouth Arts Centre and Saltram House (National Trust) curated by Eliza Gluckman, exploring contemporary chinoiserie in contemporary art. The exhibition will be held at the museum from 28th April – 7th July 2012 and will feature artists including Ed Pien, Fiona Tan and Grayson Perry.

The Curator Eliza Gluckman had this to say about the presentations

“I just wanted to say a quick thank you for asking me to be on the panel for the Falmouth student's response to the museum collection and Sinopticon. It was a really enjoyable couple of hours. I thought all of the students had all really explored themes of the exhibition, some very personally, and all in very different ways. It was very heartening to see such a great group of creative minds and to hear them talk about their work. Clearly confidence makes a huge difference in delivery but I think everyone really rose to the occasion. Please do pass on my thanks to them and their tutor. I look forward to seeing the final works in the museum.”

Student work 

Briony Maple
Inspired by the story telling patterns and items recovered from shipwrecks in this collection, this piece tells the story of the dark and dangerous side of our tea trade with China, using materials to highlight the vulnerability of the trade and ships and the preciousness of its cargo.

Hannah Batstone

Hannah chose to explore the connections of East and West through the trading of the East India Company.

Her piece draws on the deceptive methods used by the British to acquire tea from China. This volatile relationship resulted in The Opium Wars, and high rates of Opium addiction in China.

Laura Beer
‘Animal, vegetable, mineral’ #1 and #2
Slip cast ceramic with gold lustre
These vessels draw on imagery from the collection of mythological hybrid animals, pondering the blurring of boundaries between human, animal and object. Developments in genetic engineering and modern technologies have facilitated the surreal actualisation of the hybridised body for both medical and commercial purposes. Today there is an interesting dialogue in this field between China and the West.
Mayumi Yamashita

Nadia Medani

‘Bone China tea cup – Brooch and Ring’

Nadia Medani has created two jewellery pieces, a ring and a scarf pin, reflecting on the attempts in the west to create porcelain similar to the wares being imported from china at the time and the eventual recipe formulated by Spode, commonly known as Bone China.

Copper, Animal Bone, Found Object, Gold Leaf. – Fabricated, laser etched.

Pewter, Animal Bone. – Cast, Fabricated, laser etched.

- Concrete Blocks and Porcelain Bowls
By Rhiannon Palmer

Porcelain was one of Chinas most prized commodities in the 16th century due to its unique strength and whiteness. The Imperial courts realised its value so had tight control over the industry and kept it a secret from the rest of the world. Rhiannon has visualised this idea by representing the courts as concrete blocks oppressing the porcelain. However, the porcelain is holding up the weight of the blocks proving its strength despite its teetering, delicate appearance. 

The Original Brief

We would like to invite BA (Hons) Contemporary Craft students to participate in a project to produce small scale works of craft in response to the museum’s historic Chinese collections in the China Connection Gallery with a connection to the underlying theme of Chinoiserie. The intention is that they will be displayed in situ in the China Connection Gallery alongside objects from the permanent collection.
Students will have the opportunity to visit the Museum to study the collections on display and be given a guided tour of the Chinese collections.
Items submitted for this scheme must consider how the work will be displayed and any installation methods. They must also be accompanied by an artist’s statement outlining the themes behind the your response to the Sinopticon exhibition.

Not Much to report at the moment- Students broke up for Easter last Friday the 16th March

Just got sent this link from the Telegraph- good to know Falmouth is really on the Radar for Making and Designing- and a mention of the course too.

Dominic Lutyens trying out Verso chairs and MARK table and light, all made in Falmouth

Hip-hop and the Neoliberal Turn

Lester Spence
  Johns Hopkins University

  The January/February 2012 Boston Review featured a provocative set of essays on the future of black politics. The essays echo yet provide much more heft than a somewhat similar forum the Boston Review held in 1992. They address a number of key issues, from the growing divide between the black poor and middle classes, the seeming unwillingness of government to tackle the issue of income inequality and of racial inequality, the lack of a critical black progressive infrastructure to tackle these issues. Below I unpack one of these ideas—the growing neoliberalization of black politics.
Hip-hop is in many ways a response to the neoliberal turn in cities, to manufacturing and safety-net disinvestment on the one hand, and to punitive and financial capital investment on the other hand. Just as we can loosely categorize old negro spirituals as work songs replete with call and response techniques that enhance and buffer field labor, we can loosely categorize rap as post-industrial work songs.
West’s track above works on a few different levels. One of the reasons I appreciate both Kanye and JayZ’s work is because they really drive home hip-hop’s anthemic elements. By remixing Shirley Bassey’s Diamonds Are Forever (the themesong for the 1971 James Bond film of the same name) the record deftly blends hard beats and basslines with the soft ethereal elements of Bassey’s voice and the ornate instrumentation of the original. It also binds a trenchant black Atlantic critique of the diamond industry, with a fierce love of Roc-A-Fella (Kanye West and Jay-Z’s first record label—symbolized by diamonds). But Jay-Z’s cameo at about the 2:25 mark strikes me. Comparing his ability to sell cocaine to his ability to sell records, JayZ notes “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business man, let me handle my business, damn.”
Neoliberalism—the dismantling of the state, privileging of markets over all other institutions, and relentless catering to corporate interests—has reshaped the economic and political terrain, sharpened class cleavages, and pitted disadvantaged groups against each other, presenting new challenges for any emergent black movement. 
Neoliberalism doesn’t quite represent the dismantling of the state. Indeed the state’s punitive power has grown, not diminished. Neoliberalism requires a powerful state to rollback the social safety net and to rollout neoliberal policies. Furthermore it requires a state with broad ranging surveillance and punitive powers to separate those unable to work within the neoliberal framework from those able to do so. The now 15 year old welfare reform bill signed by Bill Clinton replaced lifelong welfare benefits with temporary ones that required an intensely invasive bureaucracy
Case workers under the new bill were tasked to track not only whether the single mothers were looking for jobs and how they looked for them, but in some cases they were tasked with drug testing recipients and forcing them to identify the biological fathers of their children. And one need only travel the streets of Time Square to note a signal growth in both the police presence and in the arms police use to carry out their jobs. Finally we can track the increasing incarceration of American citizens, and African American citizens in particular.
Jay-Z quote above signals his willing acceptance of the neoliberal turn, a turn that forces people to take more and more responsibility for their own care and personal development under the guise of entrepreneurialism. The focus on the hustle and the hustler within rap, the focus on the grind, are all fundamental components of the neoliberal turn, as these themes push people to become more and more “productive” with their time even as they are rewarded less and less (and being punished them more and more). Rap magnates like JayZ see themselves as new jack entrepreneurs using their productivity and their entrepreneurial capital to develop black business and black communities. 
Above we see a clip of Creflo Dollar, head pastor of Creflo Dollar Ministries and founder of World Changers Church International. From a church with less than ten members, Pastor Dollar has grown his church to a congregation of over 30,000 members with annual revenues of over $60 million/year. According to the Wikipedia entry Dollar himself has a private jet, two Rolls-Royces, and expensive homes in Atlanta and in New York City. The sermon is a powerful example of the prosperity gospel—the fastest growing gospel in America, the fastest growing gospel in African America. Believing in God, truly believing in God will not only bring spiritual prosperity according to Dollar, but will bring material prosperity. Concomitantly not believing in God will block your blessings and will reduce your ability to prosper materially. Poverty along these lines is the result of a spiritual deficit rather than a material deficit. 
Finally, above we have a clip of Dave Bing, current mayor of the City of Detroit.  Bing makes the claim that fiscal mismanagement has caused Detroit’s economic crisis. Just as labor and automotive executives came together to stave off the collapse of the auto industry (incidentally by eviscerating worker benefits and past labor agreements), citizens have to sacrifice in order to stave off a state takeover. In 2011 the Michigan legislature passed Public Act 4 of 2011. The innocuous sounding act allows the state to appoint a financial emergency manager when a local government unit (a city, a township, a school system) experiences financial crisis. An online faq detailing the content of the Act provides an answer to the most important question—what happens when as the result of crisis a local government unit is placed in receivership?
…beginning then and throughout the receivership, the governing body and chief administrative officer of the unit of local government may not exercise any of the powers of those offices except as may specifically [be] authorized in writing by the Emergency Manager. In addition, the governing body and chief administrative officer are subject to any conditions required by the Emergency Manager. [Italics mine]
We already think of Detroit as a third world country on American soil—the best commercial of the 2011 Superbowl had the tagline “imported from Detroit”. Long before both major political parties urged deficit reduction policies, cities like Detroit were forced by state governments and bond rating agencies to reign in social spending. But in the wake of today’s crisis they are now being asked to do more than that—as a result of the financial crisis Detroit has been forced to make are cuts in both the police and fire department.
The black political imagination has been shaped by black popular culture, and by calls to faith by progressive black church leaders. And as blacks have increasingly become majority populations in American cities, it has been shaped by black elected officials (particularly by black mayors). This political imagination has for all intents and purposes been neoliberalized. Black populations internally divide themselves into two populations—black populations that have the potential to be responsible for themselves and for the race, and black populations that are irresponsible at best and are dangers to the race at worst. In dealing with this new increasingly multicultural political era, the first thing black activists need to take account of are the forces within black communities that make it increasingly difficult to articulate much less fight for progressive political visions. 

Lester Spence's book, Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics is available from the University of Minnesota Press. Lester Blogs @ and you can follow him twitter@lesterspence

Level 1 2D-3D project

Not all the work is finished yet, but here are some examples of the work produced in our 5 week plaster modelling, moulding and slip casting rotation. There are lots of new processes to try out in this rotation, including; plaster turning and running, using Illustrator files to drive CNC cutting machines, 1and 2 piece mould making, slip making and casting, glazing and surface decoration.

lots of curious objects with different qualities - the shape of things to come!
We will be using some of these images for this years Degree show catalogue and professional practice publicity materials.

Laura Beer

Anna Roberts

Ashley Thompson


Rhiannon Palmer

Stephanie Tadhunter

Briony Maple

Lotte Whelpton

Rich May

Sara Larson