What is going on here?

So Maps was kind enough to link here in an interesting post about what has happened to left-wing intellectual space in New Zealand, and he’s certainly right that as elsewhere much of it these days blooms on blogs. But those who have clicked through must have been disappointed with this particular moribund site.

I’ve had a lot going on since finishing the thesis – some tourism, some house moving, getting a proper job lecturing at Sydney Uni, and best of all getting ready for the arrival of my daughter. But I’m not planning on giving up on blogging. I now think, though, that political blogging is done better as part of a collective project rather than on an individual blog, especially one as low-intensity as this. I’ve promised to contribute to the excellent new Left Flank, and while I have yet to deliver, that’s where I’d like to put any Australian political-economic commentary. Here I plan to keep pottering along posting more of the demi-academic, semi-scholarly and quasi-theoretical stuff from time to time, like the Poulantzas material of the last few posts.

Sometime soon, anyway.

PS. I should say that despite Maps’ description I’m not really into crisis theory, I don’t think traditional Marxian crisis theory has been all that enlightening regarding the GFC, and that I agree with Panitch and Gindin that there are better things for socialists to do than predict the next crisis (or the indefinite extension of this one).

Published in: on 25 January, 2011 at 9:13 am  Comments (2)  

The Poulantzas project

Nicos Poulantzas in days before smoking in the office was structurally selected against

Now that I have some spare time on my hands, one of my medium-term projects is to do a proper engagement with Poulantzas, with the aim of sorting out my own theory of the capitalist state, and of economic policy in particular. I draw on Poulantzas a bit in my thesis, borrowing useful ideas without dealing with his vision as a whole. Now I want to go back and sort out exactly what I think. Poulantzas is one of those theorists who is incredibly helpful even when I disagree with points or even think the framing itself is misguided. He asks the right kinds of questions, and shows what a theory of the capitalist state has to do, even when his own particular constructions (which he kept radically revising throughout his short career) are problematic. Thirty or forty years on, he is still the person to engage with in Marxian state theory – a tradition that reached its high-water mark in the late 1970s, and never died but faded away.

Poulantzas is also difficult to read, and I don’t think it’s the translation. He adopts the language of other theoretical systems – first Sartre’s, then Althusser’s – of which he simply assumes knowledge. So there are a lot of sidetracks to do in dealing with him. On the other hand, once the language is understood, he is a very clear and systematic writer. And the fact that most of his exposition takes place through engagement with other writers is a good thing – in dealing with Poulantzas, you are also dealing with the Marxian ‘classics’, with Gramsci, Sartre, Althusser, Ralph Miliband, Perry Anderson, and Foucault.

The book Paradigm Lost: state theory reconsidered, edited by Aronowitz and Bratsis [2002], has some great chapters on why Poulantzian state theory – along with the work of Miliband, which I’ll also discuss – receded as a research program and why it deserves to be revived. (It also makes clear why Poulantzas and Miliband – their names linked mainly by the polemics they directed against one another – can be seen as part of the same program.) Leo Panitch, in his chapter, “The impoverishment of state theory”, stresses that there was substance and systematicity to the state theory of the 1970s that was new to both social science and the Marxian tradition, especially in its attempts to deal with modern advaced capitalist democracies:

It needs to be stressed today that we did not at all see ourselves as falling back on a prefabricated Marxism; the new theory of the state had Marxist roots but it was founded on the notion that nothing like an elaborated and coherent theory of the capitalist state (in contrast with the complex array of concepts and tendential laws that constituted Marxian economics and historical materialism) had been fashioned either by Marx himself or by his successors—up to and including Gramsci. And the new theory was concerned to displace the narrowly ideological official Marxism of the Communist parties. [p. 90]

My plan, then, is to work through Poulantzas’s major essays and books and some of their reference points – with particular attention to his theory’s relevance for the development of economic policy in the twentieth century. Economics is sometimes said to be a weak point for Poulantzas – but that gives me something to do.

Published in: on 16 September, 2010 at 12:54 pm  Comments (3)  


The thesis is finally done – ‘Inflation and the making of macroeconomic policy in Australia, 1945-85’. There will be an online version eventually, once it’s marked and corrected.

Anyway I think I might now have the time and energy to revive things here, though there probably won’t be much content on inflation, macroeconomic policy, Australia, or the decades 1945-85 for a little while.

The plan is to use this site more for scraps, notes and conversation – that is, what a blog is meant to be for – and I’ll try and put more substantive pieces elsewhere. One reason I want to revive Scandalum Magnatum is that Sydney friends have put up blogs so I now have locals to link to. Dr_Tad and liz_beths have started Left Flank, focused on Australian politics. They have kicked off with an excellent series of posts on the Federal election and some constructive criticism of the Greens. On a more philosophical plane is Jonathon Collerson’s Wrong Arithmetic – and also check out the group blog associated with a Sydney Capital reading group which has achieved the rare feat of continuing to exist long enough for an attempt on Volume II.

I’m also excited to get back into discussions with international friends, and especially to tag along with Duncan Law’s project to review the literature on the history of capitalism.

Published in: on 6 September, 2010 at 10:53 am  Comments (6)  

nobody here

Published in: on 8 August, 2010 at 9:03 pm  Leave a Comment  


I might have mentioned before that I spend most of my days working on a PhD thesis, and have done for about four years now. It’s about time this thesis was done, and I do have drafts of almost every chapter in various states of completion, totalling well over the 80,000 word limit. Sometimes I think about it and think it could be brought up to scratch in a few weeks; other times I realise it needs to be completely rewritten from scratch.

Anyway I don’t think I’ve ever posted anything here from the thesis, for various reasons. But now that I’m confident the whole argument is settled I’m going to start posting bits and pieces. Partly because putting it out for an immediate and fresh audience (there are of course people who have been reading drafts all along) motivates me to clean up the messy bits, and the prospect of telling the story actually gets me excited about the whole damn thing again. I’m also going to use this space to exorcise offcuts that I know don’t fit into the structure but I still kind of like on their own merits. I’ll post in small chunks because I know people generally aren’t in the headspace to read thousands of words when they’re sifting through teh blogs. But I’m really interested to get feedback from anyone who feels like reading it.

It’s specifically about the politics of counter-inflation policy in Australia between 1945 and the mid-1980s. But that’s really a keyhole through which I tell a story about capitalism, the capitalist state, and what the hell happened between the post-war boom and what often gets thought of as the neoliberal turn of the 1980s. In the middle there, of course, is the crisis of the 1970s. It’s about Australia, but I think aspects of the story in outline are generalisable at least to the other Anglo countries. In some ways focusing on little old Australia opens up new angles, because we’re all so used to hearing the story of the post-war boom, stagflationary bust, and neoliberalism with regard to the US and UK, and it’s interesting to see what’s different and what’s not. Interesting quirks like monetarism making its first political appearance through the Labor Party, and the great transition of the 1980s coming through Labor’s Keating and the labour movement acceptance of the Accord, rather than the hard face of Thatcher or Reagan.

I also happen to think the story makes a pretty exciting narrative, which I try to do justice to even though I’m trying to explain rather than tell the story (that last bit is my supervisor talking). There’s the Battle of the Banks, an enormous media battle of propaganda and counter-propaganda over Chifley’s plan to nationalise the banks; a decade of financial innovation in which a tower of mindboggling new financial instruments and institutions is built on the back of consumer debt, collapsing in a credit crunch (the 1950s); wild boom and bubble years of mineral discoveries and exploitation; Milton Friedman arriving on a plane direct from Chile followed by camera crews on a speaking tour in shopping malls up and down the east coast; Joan Robinson arriving a month later (fewer camera crews); Fraser’s coup and the nation of bastards, carried up and down on a whiplashing exchange rate… and dumped into the 1980s.

Eddie just as Fast on the way down


Things have been a little quiet here, mainly on account of the thesis. After writing all day I just don’t have much energy to write in the evening. Next week the teaching starts again. It might keep being quiet for a while, or I might change the way I use this site. Or it might not – at other points when I’ve been writing hard at uni I’ve also felt like writing about completely different stuff once home. Who can predict when the mysterious blog gods distribute their energies?

But I also want to alert those of you who are not so well-versed in Scandalum Magnatum trivia to a post from last June, when I mentioned a research presentation I had seen on work by Sue Newberry,  Sandra van der Laan and Deborah Brennan on the most peculiar financial structure of Eddy Groves’ ABC Learning childcare corporation:

The really interesting stuff is in the valuation of its assets. ABC doesn’t own the physical property of most of its childcare centres, instead leasing them off a related property trust. ABC itself values its total assets at $2.3 billion. Only $600 million of that is in physical assets. The rest, $1.7 billion, is in intangibles, mostly put down to its centres’ childcare licences. Now, childcare licenses are not exactly assets that can be bought and sold on their own, and they aren’t that expensive to obtain.

Now ABC shares hit rock bottom, on revelations of poor earnings and a stunning pile of debt, and Groves is forced to sell his own shares (and some mansions) to pay back money he borrowed against them. Although it looks like private equity is coming to the rescue (Morgan Stanley is issuing debt to pay ABC’s), it’s all pretty ignominious. Nice spotting Newberry et al.

Published in: on 6 March, 2008 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  



 What better way to be eased back into blogging than to be tagged by JCD at Fragments for one of these memes?

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

Here goes:

Between the two Queens the favourite waiting-woman stood like the figure-head on a fire-dog; an approving smile might cost her her life.

“How can I be as gay as you after losing the late King, and when I see my son’s kingdom on the eve of a conflagration?”

“Politics do not much concern women,” replied Mary Stuart.

This is from Balzac’s About Catherine de Medici, translated by Clara Bell (1901). The first half of the dialogue is the lady herself, and it’s from a great moment of confrontation between the Queen Mother and the teenage Queen Mary. Irony of course; these two don’t do much besides politics.

It’s a strange book, collecting a novella and two short stories written years apart and set 250 years before most of the Human Comedy. Balzac’s politics shine through: the main point is to vindicate Catherine for the St Bartholemew’s Day Massacre. Not that she wasn’t behind it, but that she should have made it bigger and totally wiped out the Huguenots. In the last story (chronologically, but actually written first) she appears in a dream to Robespierre in the late 1780s and explains that if she had been successful none of this questioning-the-throne business would be taking off. Still, the story works works against Balzac and she seems like quite the bitch.

Alright, I’m supposed to tag five people: How about Maps or Skyler at Reading the Maps; Nate at What in the Hell; Mr iBreed at iBreed; Eric at Recording Surface; and… that may well exhaust the readership of this blog. So, uh, whoever runs that LOLCats site.

Published in: on 18 February, 2008 at 9:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Bye bye bachelor


So I’m out of the country for three weeks. Raych and I are getting civilly united back in NZ.

Published in: on 24 January, 2008 at 10:59 pm  Comments (3)  


Happy New Year! I have to admit some superstition about these artificial breaks in time, I’m a sucker for the fantasy of the clean slate.

I’d like to say my resolution is to get my shit together on here. Eight months of not-entirely-irregular posting in one spot is not too bad for me. But it’s a bit of a mixed bag, this blog, whose only guiding theme is ‘stuff I can get motivated to write about (besides my thesis)’. I alienated 50 per cent of my regular readership (hi Raych) with the interminable Keynes commentary. But that commentary now brings most of the hits here, via Google. And not many of those visitors are going to be interested in the rantings about Australian politics that have filled the space since.

Anyway, I’d like to rationalise things here at Scandalum Magnatum, write more, and drag a lot more half-finished pieces out of the drafts folder. But I can’t promise much at the moment because most of my 2008 resolutions were made some time ago. Like my thesis is due a year from yesterday. Oh, and Raych and I are getting married a month from tomorrow. (Actually it’s technically going to be a Civil Union.)

So more than likely this is going to keep being pretty random. Plans for the near future: I’m going to finish the Keynes posts, and I don’t care if they bore certain people to tears. I want to finish off some drafts on this credit crunch business. And I’d like to do some more writing on the local area. I’m delighted that after variations on ‘motives for holding money Keynes’ and ‘investment multiplier’ and so on, the most common search phrase that sends people here is ‘post-industrial wasteland sydney’, thanks to the throwaway piece I did on the Eveleigh Railyards. There’s a lot more where that came from.

Published in: on 1 January, 2008 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Reading Keynes

Where are the lefty economics blogs? I find myself haunting the philosophy and cultural studies segments of the blogosphere, which is possibly more fun than economics, especially when I need to divert myself from an economics thesis. The web is full of humming radical philosophy and cultural studies blogs, but a radical political economy community just isn’t there. Or maybe I’m just not aware of it?

Anyway, a reading group I’ve been part of in real life is about to turn to Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. I’ve read tons of the secondary literature but never read it right through. It seems important to do so for my thesis at some point, too, so that’s a bonus. So I thought I’d use this spot as a place to work through it, and if anybody wants to join me, great. It’s about 400 pages including the index, and I’ve got a month to get through it for the reading group. So the plan is to do a chapter each working day, starting Thursday. The chapters are not too long – hell, the first one is half a page. But it is dense in places.

You can read it online here: http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/keynes/general-theory/index.htm

Published in: on 2 October, 2007 at 3:50 pm  Comments (2)